Friday, December 25, 2015

decisions and revisions

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

Some of you know the poem.

If only I can free myself of all these meaning-vacated entanglements, I can at last be free of this debilitating dread.

I've decided to start politicking for Bernie Sanders, the not-so-dark-anymore horse chasing the Democratic Party's Presidential nomination.  Not for the same reasons as many others, and seemingly against many of the arguments I myself send to swim upstream against prevailing political perspectives.  Revision to decision.

Recapping some of those arguments before challenging similar though not identical ones, the Presidency is not a magic wand.

The President of the United States is a paradox, inasmuch as s/he wields immense power and is at the same time more powerless than anyone else in the world.

The President can hire and fire a lot of people; but s/he cannot in the stroke of a pen change the culture of the vast bureaucracies that this or that hired person might inherit, nor the laws that govern the bureaucracy, nor the encyclopedic reams of policies and procedures that govern the inner workings of these institutions.  The President can order a cessation of hostilities by United States Armed Forces anywhere in the world - which is perhaps the most important and morally compelling of Presidential powers; and the President - given the consolidation of executive power that has proceeded apace since the American Civil War - can send US Armed Forces to attack people anywhere in the world. The President can appoint Supreme Court Judges, a power that gets a lot of devious play when the lesser-evil-Republicans-gonna-eat-yer-children rationalizations come out of the woodline. Presidents can veto proposed laws and force a majority Congressional vote to upend that veto.

The reality, though, given how politics really works, especially as we descend deeper into the ooze of simulacra, is that Presidents, as politicians and party members and players who have weaseled their way to the top, can never say what they actually mean, or do what they know to be right, because they are hemmed in by webs of concentric "considerations."  I can, for example, say - as a powerless pensioner living in a little town - that Israel is a racist state that has established a militarily enforced system of Apartheid.  This is demonstrably true, but you won't hear any President say it, even though s/he certainly has access to even more corroborating facts in this regard than I do.  This silence is a political "consideration."  Bernie Sanders, as a candidate for the Presidency, will not say this, even if he knows it to be true; and I expect that he does.  Clinton won't say it.  Trump won't say it.  One of the "considerations" on this account is that the majority of the voting-eligible population of the United States is indoctrinated and ignorant about this issue, which is something else no politician will say, nor will any President.  On any issue.

"Actually, the American people [politicians love this phrase] by and large don't know shit from Shinola about [pick the topic]."

"On many topics, the American people believe anything that gets repeated often enough - conservatives and liberals alike."

"You, the American people, are largely spoiled, ignorant beneficiaries of imperial tribute from the rest of the world."

Think any of them will say stuff like that; but you - dear reader - can say it without consequence.

This is what I mean by powerless; and this is the short description of the power-powerlessness-paradox of the Presidency.

Then there is the fear factor.  Many of us, especially war-critical Christians like myself, despise the remote control bombing, via unmanned aerial drones, that the Obama Administration has employed with such apparent enthusiasm. But in the wake of 9-11 (the most effective strategic operation of our age), and in the wake of the disastrous Bush Presidency's invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (which are both ongoing defeats, whether we know it or not), Obama took the office with a nightmare that another such attack might be waged on his watch; and so he has adopted a nearly crazed policy of semi-secret interdiction against anyone anywhere who might be considered capable of such an operation - no matter how remote the possibility - and a method that avoids the kinds of problems that emerge with the employment of ground troops.

I have every confidence that President Hillary Clinton would continue this slaughter and even accelerate it; and I have very low confidence that President Sanders would discontinue this unconscionable policy altogether.

Furthermore, I don't believe a President Sanders would be a panacea (even though I firmly believe Sanders would trounce Trump or any of the other buffoons from the now utterly dysfunctional GOP).  Congress, which is chosen more locally through wealth primaries and the abiding architectures of patronage and pork, would block his every move; and the most powerful media outlets - as they are doing even now - would subvert him at every turn on behalf of their paymasters.

I am a Christian of the variety who doesn't think Christians ought to seek political power; and that means even the political power to "do good."  Penitentiaries began as a do-gooder project heartily endorsed by Quakers; and the Law of Uninteded Consequences is the closest thing to a social version of natural law there is.  Unlike conservatives, I don't believe property is sacrosanct; and unlike liberals, I don't support the state forcing kids into twelve years of indoctrination; and I could extend this list of what I disagree with on both sides of our narrow political spectrum deep down into the very metaphysical caverns of American politics.  So I'm not supporting a candidate for the Presidency because I want him (Sanders in this case) to use his imaginary powers to re-shape American society (there are to damn many social engineers out there already, and our most basic problems are insoluble or beyond the point of no return).  I admit I'd like to see a few common sense policies - the legal repression of rentier capitalists, for example, a single-payer health care program, the decriminalization of drugs, the end of militarism, the abolition of the death penalty and nuclear weapons, unarmed cops, and the precautionary principle on environmental matters.  These would endanger profits for powerful political players, so I'm not holding my breath - even with a Sanders Presidency.

I don't like Sanders' nationalism, his silence/complicity with the State of Israel, his militarism-lite, et al.  And I refuse to be silent about them, even as I endorse him.  I hate the way elections turn us all into consequentialists who want to "accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative."  That is manipulative, full stop, and therefore immoral.  One can be a nationalist without being a capitalist (and Sanders is a kind of socialist, though he doesn't meet the most demanding sectarian standards of my former marxist colleagues - but then, they often oust each other, too).  I oppose nationalism, though I have socialist leanings (I sure as hell despise capitalism - the most destructive system in history), yet I doubt socialism is viable on a too grand a scale for very long (another post), and I agree with Ivan Illich that if it comes, it needs to lose its Promethean technological optimism and "come in riding a bicycle."

On the other hand, and here is where the Prufrock reference takes on significance here, there are those people - on the left and among those who are otherwise anti-establishment - who recognize that voting and elections are not solutions, but who have adopted the notion that refusing to vote will somehow usher in the New Era. This is a towering and witless non sequitur, every bit as infected with magical thinking as those who believe an election result can flip the system.  Refusing to vote is no more efficacious at producing change than voting (the magical idea is that somehow voting will be replaced by street actions that will produce a revolutionary groundswell . . . not).  Others, who - rightly in my view - believe that elections are a public ritual that reinforces the myth of democracy (strong element of truth there), believe therefore that voting at all is a form of complicity.  But this assumes that nothing at all is ever accomplished by voting or election outcomes, and this is patently not true.  A Gore Presidency would have been different than a Bush Presidency (especially in military actions), but neither would have upended capitalism; and both would have done precisely the same thing in response to the 2007-8 financial calamity, i.e., bail out Wall Street on the backs of the this and future generations.

Prufrock --- There is among each of these anti-voting tendencies the underlying belief that if they can free themselves of all these meaning-vacated entanglements, they can at last be free of their debilitating dread that they themselves are powerless.  This is also the secret fear of conspiracy theorists.  Even malevolent power proves that our lives and our societies are controllable.  There is not beneath this veneer of routine and respectability a howling void of meaningless chaos.

As a Christian, this is not my issue; and so I don't feel compelled to seek out evidence to the contrary.  Nor do I need to divorce myself from the world.

I'm supporting the candidacy of Sanders, which means I'll send him a few bucks, send stuff around on Facebook, maybe do some door-knocking, and vote.  Not much really.

My reasons?  Certainly not to overturn the system (I'd love to, thank you, but it's bigger than any of us, even the President of the United States), and not because I hate and fear Republicans (though many of them are certainly stupid, mean-spirited, and attached to some dangerous forms of racial and national masculinity).  I decided to do this because it is a way - at this point in time, in this particular historical juncture, given this specific set of circumstances - to stick a big fat thumb in the eye of the Democratic Party establishment, which has engaged in intentional, cynical, serial betrayals of a lot of people I like and admire, as well as a lot of people - like African Americans as just one example - who have been forced by circumstances into strategic reliance on that establishment.  Bernie Sanders is not going to change the world, but if he is nominated, he is not going to lose to the likes of Donald Trump, and he will certainly not make things worse than Clinton will for people like women, African America, and others, who have been forced by Republicans to vote in self-defense (and sometimes compelled me to vote, too, in recognition of the white privilege that gives me a degree of separation when I abstain).

Honestly, what made up my mind, was when the DNC pulled that stunt last week of trying to pull the Iowa voter databases away from the Sanders campaign.  They got tripped up on that and had to relent, but it was just one more example of the kind of bullying Clinton, the DNC, the DLC, and all the rest have gotten away with for decades.  And it happened just days after more news came out about the Clinton-friend, former DP hatchet-man, and sitting Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, and his cover-up of the police murder of yet another black man. (It's very hard for me to ignore that the last President Clinton signed a law that put millions of people - mostly of color - into prison.)

I don't agree with everything Sanders says or does, or will say or do; but even saying that in advance won't prevent those who say voting, or voting for him, is somehow a betrayal or evidence of my naivete (I love it when people suggest this!) from using what he says or does to somehow discredit my decision to support.

I'm getting entangled nonetheless.

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